Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brazil: Rio Residents Protest Against Police (Updated)

At least one person was killed in the Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro as protesters clashed with police on Tuesday night.

Streets in the tourist area of Copacabana where closed and fires where set alight in the impoverished Pavao-Pavaozinho favela as a result of the protests.

Hundreds of residents were angry against police who they blamed for the recent death of 26-year-old Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira.  Demonstrators argued that the professional dancer who appeared on TV Globo died at the hands of the police who allegedly mistook him for a wanted criminal. 

Rio de Janeiro's State Security Secretariat said in a Twitter post that he died as a result of a fall and that the death was still under investigation.  Yet a forensic expert reportedly said to investigators that the blood trail from da Silva Pereira’s body indicates that he ran across the roofs of several houses prior to his death. This lends credibility to the hypothesis that the deceased may have been chased by police officers as he was trying to escape a shootout between the authorities and local drug gangs.

Several cars and buses were burned on Easter Sunday in separate protests by residents in another part of Rio regarding the deaths of two teenagers on Friday while under police custody.

The incidents occurred as authorities step up security roughly six weeks prior to the start of the World Cup.  Their strategy to combat violence, particularly in the poorer areas of Rio, has been controversial:

Daily Headlines: April 23, 2014

* El Salvador: Salvadoran church leaders have called on the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 street gangs to agree to a second truce in order to combat an uptick in violence following the end of a previous peace pact.
* Colombia: A Colombian court ordered that Gustavo Petro should be restored as mayor of the capital city of Bogota over a month after he was ousted over alleged mismanagement.
* Puerto Rico: Unemployment in Puerto Rico continues to fall though at 14.7% it’s more than double the latest U.S. unemployment rate.

* Cuba: According to the Costa Rican press, U.S. diplomatic officials in the Central American country ran a now-defunct “Cuban Twitter” social network aimed at creating unrest against the island's government.
Video Source– Voice of America via YouTube

Online Sources – Reuters; GlobalPost; LAHT; Tico Times

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Today's Video - Ticos and the Environment

In honor of Earth Day, this week we're going to highlight videos regarding the environment.

The following brief video via the World Bank examine, as the narrator mentions, how Costa Rica has become "a shining example of how the green growth ideal is within all countries' reach."

Video Source - World Bank via YouTube 

Nuestro Cine – Gabo

“Nuestro Cine” is our occasional feature where we focus on the world of film in the Americas. 
In his career spanning some six decades, recently deceased Latin American journalist and novelist Gabriel García Márquez sold tens of millions of books and received near universal acclaim worldwide.  His great literary skill was acknowledged in the numerous tributes to Gabo including a ceremony on Monday at Mexico City’s Fine Arts Palace and a symbolic funeral in the late author’s birthplace of Aracataca, Colombia.

Not as well known, however, are the movies based on his texts that graced the silver screen.  (One could argue that his most famed adaptation to have been filmed where the scenes in the R.E.M. music video for “Losing My Religion” that where based on one of his short stories).
Directed by Francesco Rosi of Italy the 1987 movie adaptation of Chronicle of a Death Foretold was filmed in the Colombian state of Bolivar.  The movie contained numerous European-based actors who were relatively unknown across the Atlantic though British-born Rupert Everett would gain fame for his roles in My Best Friend’s Wedding and in two of the Shrek films.

As one can view below the page break, the first part of the movie shares some of the non-linear structure of the book that is the fictional reconstruction of the real murder of Santiago Nasar.  However the film does differ in that omits many of the dozens of characters included in the novel and also changes the narrator from an anonymous actor to the character of Cristo Bedoya, the closest friend of Nasar. 

Daily Headlines: April 22, 2014

* Mexico: Could Mexico’s new food labeling rules aimed at reversing an obesity epidemic backfire and lead to an increased consumption of items with sugar?

* Uruguay: Uruguayan President Jose Mujica may have given the green light to a U.S. deal that would allow the repatriation of five Guantanamo detainees but he rejected the possibility of a free trade pact with the U.S.
* Argentina: U.S. Supreme Court justices listened to arguments yesterday regarding a lawsuit from creditors seeking payment of Argentina's $82 billion default in 2001.
* Peru: A new poll found that two in three Peruvians oppose a proposal that would permit civil unions though most people back specific components of the bill.

Video Source– AFP via YouTube

Online Sources – NBC News; Businessweek; Xinhua; GlobalPost; Gayopolis

Monday, April 21, 2014

Daily Headlines: April 21, 2014

* Peru: In the latest case of the growing international problem that is counterfeit drugs, researchers found that 28% of contraceptive medicine in Peru is either counterfeit or ineffective.

* Venezuela: Argentine-born Pope Francis used his Easter homily to call for the “reconciliation and fraternal accord” in Venezuela, a country torn by political unrest though tempers have calmed somewhat after talks between the government and opposition
* Bolivia: President Evo Morales urged Bolivian peasants and impoverished residents to teach children how to be fluent in foreign languages so they can apply for scholarships to study abroad.
* Colombia: A new report found that at least thirty-four Colombian indigenous groups are going through a "humanitarian crisis" and this could lead to their extinction.
Video Source– YouTube user VOAvideo (“The World Health Organization estimates that 25 percent of medicines sold in poor countries are counterfeit. Monitoring by the World Bank and others suggests the overall global trade in fake and substandard drugs is now more than 30 billion dollars per year”.)

Online Sources – Vox; The Telegraph; The Guardian; LAHT; Fox News Latino

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why the Easter Bunny? (Revisted)

The text of this post was first published in 2009 and we are featuring it again on this Easter holiday.

On Sunday, Catholics [Ed.-  and Orthodox Christians] around the world will commemorate the holiday of Easter- the day Jesus resurrected from the dead. Yet there’s also the view of Easter as one filled with eggs and a certain ubiquitous bunny. (And yes, it’s possible to celebrate both as I recall my childhood Easters going to church then decorating eggs after returning home!)

There has always been one detail that has nagged me: how did the Easter Bunny come about? Thankfully, the always informative Mental Floss website explains the origins. Much like the Virgen de Guadalupe, the Easter Bunny was born due to a combination of spiritual beliefs:
Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians’ celebration of Christ’s resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don’t know exactly when, but it’s first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children.
So now you know!

Video Source - YouTube user Carolina Arellano (Fanesca is a traditional Ecuadorian soup or stew prepared once each year on Easter that typically contains ingredients like bacalao or salted cod and a variety of grains). 

Online Sources - Mental Floss; Wikipedia; The Latin Americanist

Friday, April 18, 2014

Daily Headlines: April 18, 2014

* Mexico: A magnitude-7.5 earthquake struck near the resort city of Acapulco this morning and was felt throughout fourteen states in central and southern Mexico.
* Brazil: A two-day police strike ended in Brazil’s third-largest city, Salvador, but not before thirty-nine homicides were committed during that period.

* Chile: Officials with Chile’s national forestry agency claimed that firemen have “contained” a massive fire in Valparaiso that killed at least fifteen people and destroyed nearly three thousand homes.

* Cuba: Is Cuba on the verge of an “imminent health crisis” due to a reported shortage of condoms?
Video Source– YouTube user elsiglocomve (Residents in Mexico City exited their homes and places of residence Friday morning as a result of a powerful earthquake near Acapulco).

Online Sources – CNN; Reuters; The Guardian; Bernama

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Famed Author Gabriel García Márquez Dies (Updated)

One of Latin America's most famous authors, Gabriel García Márquez, has passed away on Thursday afternoon at the age of 87.

Fernanda Familiar, a spokeswoman for the García Márquez family, tweeted that the Colombian-born Nobel laureate died at his residence in Mexico City:

She wrote "Gabriel García Márquez died.  Mercedes and her sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo have authorized me to provide the information.  What a profound sadness..."

A statement from the García Márquez family issued on Wednesday mentioned that he was in "very fragile" health following a nine-day hospitalization to treat lung and urinary tract infections.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos alluded to García Márquez' best-known novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, via his Twitter account.

"One thousand years of solitude and sadness over the death of the greatest Colombian of all time," he tweeted.  Santos claimed earlier this week that García Márquez had pneumonia and was in "delicate health which is a reality of his age."
Other message of condolences were issued by international leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico as well as artists from the Americas.

"He gave me the motivation and freedom to launch myself into writing because in his books I found my own family, my country, characters familiar to me, the color and rhythm and abundance of my continent," said Chilean novelist Isabel Allende.  

"A great writer has died.  His works helped spread and provide prestige to Latin American literature...I send my condolences to his family," said came from fellow Nobel laureate and literary great Mario Vargas Llosa.  The Peruvian author along with the likes of García Márquez, Julio Cortázar of Argentina and Mexico's Carlos Fuentes spearheaded a Latin American Boom in literature during the 1960s and 70s.
The hashtag #GraciasGabo has become a trending topic on Twitter as people worldwide have taken to social networks to express their appreciation of the renown author and novelist. 

(Update: Our biography of García Márquez can be read below the page break).   

Salsa Music Great José “Cheo” Feliciano Dies

Puerto Rican salsa legend and bolero singer José “Cheo” Feliciano died in the early morning hours of Thursday in a car crash.  He was 78 years old.

According to police officials in Puerto Rico, Feliciano was driving alone in his Jaguar auto when it hit a utility pole near the San Juan suburb of Cupey.  He reportedly lost control of his car as he was entering a curve and hit his head on the windshield. 

“It was a strong impact against a fixed object,” said Jorge Hernández Peña, the head of the police force’s traffic division.  “Feliciano was not wearing his seatbelt,” observed Hernández Peña.

Feliciano’s widow, Socorro Prieto León, said at an impromptu press conference that her husband “hated to put on his seatbelt” and that she would usually drive for him since he was diagnosed with cancer last year.

“(Please) remember him always as a family man.  A man who was always very good and a wonderful partner,” she added.  The couple would have celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this October.

The motive for the accident is unknown though the singer’s son, José Enrique Feliciano, speculated that his father suffered from limited mobility and may have fallen asleep behind the wheel.
It was at the age of eight that José Luis Feliciano Vega created his first band in his birthplace of Ponce called "El Combo Las Latas" (“The Tin Can Band”) after the instruments they used.  From these humble beginnings, Feliciano would be a member of the Joe Cuba Sextet and later the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra and was best know for songs like "Una en un millon," "Mi promesa" and "Contigo aprendi." His main claim to fame, however, would be as part of the revered Fania All-Stars salsa music ensemble where he shared the stage with the likes of Celia Cruz, Willie Colón and Ruben Blades. 

Daily Headlines: April 17, 2014

* Cuba: As part of Cuba’s new labor law, the government officially declared Good Friday as a national holiday for the first time since prior to the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
* Brazil: Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff continues to handily lead in the latest presidential polls though she could face a serious challenge from ex-governor Eduardo Campos who this week teamed up with respected environmental activist Marina Silva.
* Colombia: The offices of the Sintraemcali union were firebombed days after a Colombian court ordered the state to apologize for alleging that union members were allied to the FARC guerillas.
* Argentina: Police in Argentina rescued a fifteen-year-old girl who was severely malnourished and abused by her adoptive parents who left her imprisoned for nine years in a garage.
Video Source– AFP via YouTube (Cuban officials recognized Good Friday as a holiday in 2012 following Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island but did not celebrate Good Friday as its own holiday last year).

Online Sources – CBS Local; The Guardian; Bloomberg; Fox News Latino; RTE

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Daily Headlines: April 16, 2014

Note: The following video contains graphic images and is Not Safe for Work (NSFW).

* Caribbean: Cuba and the Dominican Republic joined three other nations including Honduras in their World Trade Organization dispute against Australia’s strong anti-tobacco laws.

* Bolivia: Bolivian President Evo Morales personally handed over documents to the International Court of Justice as part of the landlocked country’s case seeking to regain a coastline from Chile.
* Argentina: The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear a case next Monday regarding unpaid debts from the Argentine government’s massive $82 billion default in 2001.

* Haiti: According to Amnesty International, “leading human rights activist” Pierre Esperance received a threat implying that he “won’t escape” the next assassination attempt against him.
Video Source– AFP via YouTube

Online Sources – GlobalPost; Reuters; The Latin Americanist; USA TODAY; The Washington Post

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Daily Headlines: April 15, 2014

* Brazil: According to a researcher from Brazil, the obesity rate among children in that South American country is an “extremely high” 39%.
* Puerto Rico: The Puerto Rican Supreme Court struck down a teacher pension reform law that the commonwealth's government said was necessary in order to improve the island’s woeful economy.

* Venezuela: Venezuelan officials claimed that there was no political motive behind the kidnapping of TV news network Globovision journalist Nairobi Pinto who was freed eight days after she was her abducted in Caracas.

* Cuba: For the first time since 1983, France’s foreign minister visited Cuba and reportedly discussed with President Raul Castro ways to “push forward our relations in the areas of culture, education, economics and politics.”

Video Source – AFP via YouTube (“Brazil is known as home of the perfect beach body - but in reality, 48% of the population is overweight and 16% obese, a rise of 5 percentage points in just five years. At the current rate, the average Brazilian could soon be heavier than the average American.”)
Online Sources – Voice of America; GlobalPost; Fox News Latino; Reuters

Monday, April 14, 2014

Daily Headlines: April 14, 2014

* Chile: More than 10,000 people were evacuated and at least eleven were killed after a massive fire destroyed hundreds of residences in the port city of Valparaiso.
* Dominican Republic: A recent report found that “arbitrary” interpretations of a controversial 2013 Dominican high court ruling has led to increased discrimination against children of Haitian background trying to attend school.
* Argentina: In the latest chapter of the diplomatic tug-of-war over the Falkland Islands, Argentina’s government blasted Britain for holding military exercises at the disputed archipelago.
* Mexico: Thirty-six people died as a result of bus that crashed into a truck yesterday on a highway in Veracruz state.
Video Source– ITN via YouTube (The major fire that hit Valparaiso occurred nearly two weeks after an 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the northern coast of Chile.)

Online Sources – Voice of America; Reuters; Prensa Latina; The Latin Americanist; The Washington Post

Friday, April 11, 2014

Daily Headlines: April 11, 2014

* Central America: A new U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime report concluded that Central America is the world’s most violent region with Honduras leading the pack with a whopping 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people.

* Brazil: Drought conditions in Brazil have been blamed for an increase in the price of coffee to its highest point since February 2012.

* Nicaragua: An earthquake measuring at least 6.1 on the Richter scale struck off the western coast of Nicaragua that reportedly did not cause any major damage.

* Colombia: Colombian police uncovered over seven tons of cocaine with a street value of about $250 million hidden in packages bound for Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Video Source – AFP via YouTube (Video uploaded in November 2013).

Online Sources –; The Guardian; Reuters; The Washington Post

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Daily Headlines: April 10, 2014

* Venezuela: President Nicolás Maduro and opposition figures are expected to meet today in live televised discussions that could help quell some of the political unrest that has claimed 39 lives over the past two months.
* South America: Three of Argentina’s five main labor unions are planning a major strike on Thursday while several thousand people in Sao Paulo marched on Wednesday calling for workplace reforms.
* Cuba: Cuban officials are reportedly “concerned” over the hunger strike undertaken by Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor imprisoned in Havana since 2010.
* Latin America: According to the World Bank, economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to slow down this year to approximately 2.3%.
Video Source– euronews via YouTube

Online Sources – Miami Herald; Tico Times; BusinessWeek; LAHT; GlobalPost